Why I’m Glad The Republicans Of The Family Aren’t Around To See This

I’m glad the long-time Republicans in my family aren’t around to witness the 2016 campaign.

Don’t get me wrong:  I wish they were still among the living.  But, with every new slide into cheap slurs and sophomoric behavior, I can’t help but shake my head at how those lifelong Rs would react to what we are seeing.

trump-lead_3512719bTake Grandpa Neal.  He first voted for President in 1920, for Warren G. Harding, and I’m confident he voted Republican in every presidential election for the next 76 years, making his last vote for Bob Dole in 1996.  After the 1968 election, he proudly displayed a plaque he received for his contribution to the Nixon campaign on his bookshelf.  He was a banker who voted Republican because he thought it was the party of fiscal responsibility, growth, and individual initiative, the party of prudent foreign and domestic policy that didn’t go in for the flash and dash of the Ds.  The Republican Party and its sober image fit him to a T. He was a modest paragon of propriety, always carefully dressed and primly mannered, with no flashes of crude humor.  He and Grandma Neal slept in separate twin beds.

Grandma Webner also tended to pull the lever for the Republicans.  She despised the Kennedys for the ostentatious displays of wealth and power that she thought let them get away with murder, and she was appalled by the scandalous behavior of some Democratic politicians.  She thought the Republicans were the more respectable party.

So how in the world would Grandpa Neal and Grandma Webner react to a Republican contest that has seen the leading candidate make a not-so-oblique reference to his sexual capabilities during a televised debate?  Could they rationalize a campaign in which the appearances of candidates’ wives become an issue and where trading crass insults seems to have replaced knowledgeable discussion of policy?  How would they respond to a candidate who routinely brags about how much money he’s made, who was a reality TV star, and has encouraged thuggish behavior by his followers?

I suspect that they would say that this is not their Republican Party anymore.

The Trump supporters say that he is giving the staid and stodgy Republican Party a much-needed shake-up and bringing new voters into the GOP fold.  Maybe that’s true — but maybe the Republican Party is just losing its way.  If Donald Trump is the nominee, what does the Republican Party stand for, really?  

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The Proper Victorian Gent And The Donald

In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe depicted the news media as a kind of prissy, proper Victorian gent, applying notions of marriage and conduct to the Mercury astronauts and their families that were outmoded even back in the early ’60s.  As a result, to win the public relations battle, the astronauts and their wives had to relentlessly portray themselves as examples of prim domestic perfection.

victorian-vest-1I thought of Wolfe’s notion of the press as the proper Victorian gent recently as I was reading coverage of the Republican presidential campaign.  The media pundits were reacting with horror at the tone of the Republican candidates, accusing them of falling to the level of schoolyard taunting and insults and — amazingly — being more critical of Marco Rubio than of Donald Trump, whose insults and willing embrace of crassness started the candidates down that road in the first place.  It is as if the press expects, tolerates, and perhaps even celebrates that kind of behavior from Trump — boy, he sure is a rebel who is breaking all of the rules for presidential candidates, isn’t he? — but can’t abide it when other candidates meet fire with fire.  Those other candidates are presented as somehow having lost their cool or taken the campaign to the gutter.

Of course, the press is really the reason why the other candidates have resorted to mocking Trump and trying to do so in ways that will attract media attention. The media is so infatuated with Trump, and the coverage is so lopsided, that the other candidates are starved for attention.  On the night Chris Christie endorsed Trump, I turned on CNN and it was carrying a Trump rally, live, as he sprayed water from a water bottle while belittling Rubio.  Other campaigns need to buy air time to get their message out to that kind of audience, but because of Trump’s antics he gets that kind of publicity for free.  Can anyone legitimately blame the other candidates if they try to respond in kind in hopes of attracting a bit more coverage?  In Marco Rubio’s case, his willingness to hurl a few insults back at Trump seems to have worked and attracted more press attention.  And while Trump won the lion’s share of contests yesterday, his opponents won some, too, and it looks like races were closer because the other candidates finally may be starting to break through the media wall around the Donald.

Of course, I would prefer that political candidates maintain a civil discourse and engage in a spirited, but elevated, discussion of the issues.  With Trump in the race, though, such hopes have long since been dashed, and it is senseless to try to hold other candidates to lofty standards when Trump is breaking all the rules and being effectively rewarded for it.  With the media perfectly willing to cover every outrageous incident of Trumpish behavior, rather than digging into and exposing Trump’s past, the only hope for voters who want to learn about Trump’s record will be the other Republican candidates — and if they need to throw in a regrettable bit of coarseness to get the media’s attention while they do so, I’m not going to wring my hands and bemoan the lack of propriety.  This is a case where the proper Victorian gents of the news media have only themselves to blame.

UJ’s Hat

IMG_6287Last weekend, on the father-son fishing trip to Hen Island, there was one dominant topic around the card table:  UJ’s hat.  It is pictured above, in all its glory.

When you’re drinking beer, smoking cigars, and playing cards, sophomoric humor tends to dominate, and usually there is one theme or target for the weekend,  This year, something about this humble hat provoked the onslaught of insult humor.  Some of the best lines:

Did you steal that hat from a homeless person?

How far down into the dumpster did you need to go to find that thing?

That hat looks like it’s ready to spontaneously combust.

Any readers so inclined are invited to share their jibes.

UJ explained, somewhat sheepishly, that he rescued the hat from the dustbin of history, when one of his friends was getting ready to pitch it — but now he wears it with a curious pride, knowing that he will suffer the slings and arrows of rude family humor.  It keeps the sun off his head, and the brim can be tugged and maneuvered into all kinds of shapes — which was one of the things that made the hat an apt target for our jokes.